Karl Marx once acidly quipped that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. But that’s not even right. When violent ideologies shred the fabric of common life, as is happening right now, there’s nothing funny about it. Not for those of us who have to live through such “interesting times.”
No doubt you’ve read the headlines. A Latin American-style socialist, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has just effectively won a seat in the U.S. Congress, defeating a long-time Democratic Party boss. One of her close campaign associates is a Jew-baiting demagogue, who whipped up votes by denouncing “greedy Jewish landlords.”
The president’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, and her family were evicted from The Red Hen restaurant by an owner who disapproves of her politics. Then that owner led a mob to follow some of the Sanders family and harass them at the next place they went to eat. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tried to eat at a Mexican restaurant, only to face a mob of protestors inside the eatery screaming “Shame” amidst profanities and insults. Florida Attorney General (and frequent defender of President Trump on Fox News) Pam Bondi was identified, harassed, and spat on when she tried to watch the new Mr. Rogers movie.
These courageous radicals seem to enjoy picking on women. But let’s be fair. When there are enough of them, they are willing to go after men. Remember the cast of Hamilton taking the stage to humiliate Vice President Pence? A menacing mob gathered outside presidential speechwriter Stephen Miller’s apartment, just this week.
Or if they have the weapons: It was only a year ago that a Bernie Sanders volunteer tried a one-man military coup, attempting to murder the entire Republican leadership of our Congress.
In the midst of this unhinged, overheated environment, a member of Congress is pouring gasoline on the fire. Rep. Maxine Waters urged protestors to harass government officials and presidential staffers in every sphere of life.
Don’t forget that Rosie O’ Donnell called for a military coup to prevent Trump’s inauguration. Madonna spoke of “blowing up the White House.” Kathy Griffin posed like an ISIS terrorist, holding a wax version of the president’s bloodied head. One-time actor Peter Fonda opined that Trump’s young son Barron ought to be thrown in a cell and gang-raped.
To its credit, the Republican National Committee has taken notice of these scary trends. The montage it produced has already gone mega-viral:
We’ve seen this kind of rhetoric just once before since America was founded — in the build-up to our Civil War. Southern leaders who dreaded the end of their “peculiar institution” outlawed abolitionist newspapers and books, defying the First Amendment. They drove out preachers and political activists with threats of violence. They even outlawed the practice of setting slaves free, as George Washington once had in his last will and testament. Pro-slavery radicals had long spoken of black people as part of a lesser species. By the 1850s, they started dehumanizing anti-slavery whites — and even all Yankees. Unwilling to simply hold onto their slaves and exploit them, slavery advocates insisted on expanding that practice to the Pacific and dreamed of creating a “slave empire” that annexed Cuba and Mexico.
What was the point of no return… the moment when it was clear that our nation would tear itself apart? That had to be in 1856, when low-scale civil war already raged in Kansas between free-soil and slave state advocates. Abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner stood up in that bastion of free, civic speech, the U.S. Senate, and delivered a stinging rebuke to pro-slave Senator Andrew Butler.
In response, Butler’s cousin, Rep. Preston Brooks, stormed onto the Senate floor two days later. Wielding a cane, he charged Sumner and beat him bloody — leaving him with permanent injuries and chronic pain. To congratulate him, backers of slavery sent Brooks dozens of shiny new canes, with notes encouraging him to assault more abolitionists. A criminal trial gave Brooks a slap on the wrist, and his constituents sent him back to Congress.
But the run-up to our Civil War isn’t the best historical comparison to what’s happening now. Back then, the stakes were clear and unchanging. For decades, one segment of Americans had striven to restrict slavery, and another faction to extend it. Those two positions were fixed and bound to come into conflict.
What’s happening now is different, and scarier in a way. What we’re seeing is much more like the spiraling out of control that happened during the French Revolution. The effort to reform a bankrupt French government had begun in 1789 with solemn religious processions led by bishops. Within just four short years, the French parliament had murdered France’s king and its queen and slaughtered thousands of aristocrats, foreign visitors, priests, monks, nuns, and political dissenters. It seized all the Church’s property and sold it cheap to wealthy allies, and was forcibly conscripting unwilling peasants to fight its wars. One of them was a war of genocide against the conservative, pious population of the Vendee region. The Revolutionary armies massacred some 300,000 civilians, for instance by roping men and women together naked and drowning them in rivers, a rite it sacrilegiously called “republican weddings.” Or loading families onto rafts, then sinking them.
The political frenzy we’re enduring today is much more Jacobin than Confederate. Its demands keep escalating, as one belief or practice that was broadly accepted ten years ago now gets painted as evil, even criminal.
Suddenly, without any scientific discoveries or even persuasive arguments, keeping men out of little girls’ bathrooms is “hateful” transphobia. Enforcing our nation’s borders, as Bill Clinton, Harry Reid, and Barbara Jordan once urged, is now a hate crime — unjustly “discriminating” against people based merely on their “immigration status.” Separating children from illegal immigrants who claim to be their parents — which President Obama did just two years ago — is suddenly compared (by the former director of the CIA, Michael Hayden) with the culling and murder of Jews in concentration camps. Catholic bishops who wink at pro-abortion Catholic senators are threatening blue-collar ICE workers and Border Patrol agents with excommunication. In 2017, 24 of those bishops joined a Vatican cardinal at a meeting of a radical leftist group and promised to “disrupt” the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.
It’s as if our society were being led by a raging mob of soccer hooligans, who have ripped up the goalposts and started running with them. Keep up, keep up, or feel its wrath.
Cynthia Nixon, candidate for governor in New York, is calling for ICE to be disbanded. That federal agency’s offices were occupied by an Antifa mob in Portland, Oregon—and authorities had to sneak in by night to secure federal property. A professor at NYU has exposed the personal information of thousands of ICE employees, putting their lives in danger. (Remember that ICE contends daily against human smugglers linked to violent drug cartels.) An official of the Department of Homeland Security came home last week to find the burned, decapitated corpse of an animal on his front porch.
That’s the kind of threat that Mexican drug gangs often use against their enemies—gangs such as those that dominate Mexico, the source or the conduit of most illegal U.S. immigrants. Just this week, the entire police force of Ocampo, Mexico, was placed under arrest after the murder of a candidate for mayor—the third in just ten days, in a wave of political murders that has claimed 100 candidates across Mexico this election season.
America is not magically immune to social unrest. There’s no law of God or nature that says so. When one political faction decides that losing an election is the same as enduring Nazi occupation, and every means of sabotage and persecution is legitimate… well, that’s how you end up in a state of civil war. Come November, voters should remember which side is trying to provoke that.
John Zmirak is co-author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration.